It seems a certain nastiness is becoming increasingly common in the way we deal with those who are not our closest friends. From public figures whose words and actions are broadcast on television, to squabbles in comment sections of online posts, to even the face-to-face interactions of social life, we see more and more records of hostility, anger, violence, and vitriol. Our consciences naturally recoil from this vice – as well they should – but what exactly is the virtue that opposes it?
In the Summa Theologica, Part II-II, Question 114, St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of a certain virtue which is commonly translated as “the friendliness which is called affability.” This friendliness, he notes, governs relationships between people because “it behooves man to be maintained in a becoming order towards other men as regards their mutual relations with one another, in point of both deeds and words, so that they behave towards one another in a becoming manner.” It does not only govern those relationships which are intimate or proximate; rather “Every man is naturally every man’s friend by a certain general love; even so it is written (Ecclesiasticus 13:19) that ‘every beast loveth its like.’” This does not mean that everyone must be treated with equal intimacy – some people are connected to us by a closer bond than others – but that there is a minimum affability or common decency which is owed to all persons.
Following St. Paul’s words, “I am glad; not because you were made sorrowful, but because you were made sorrowful unto repentance,” (2 Corinthians 7:9), Aquinas notes that this affability does not preclude words or actions which make another sorrowful, so long as that sorrow is ordered – in charity – to their repentance. However, apart from encouraging others to repent and not to sin, we are bound to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep,” (Romans 12:15) and to “Be not wanting in comforting them that weep, and walk with them that mourn” (Ecclesiasticus 7:26). Intentionally hurtful words and deeds directly contradict this Scriptural mandate.
Moreover, this virtue is bound both to the virtue of charity and of justice. Though friendliness does not bind us to strict justice in the full sense of a legal debt, there is, nevertheless, a “certain debt of equity, namely, that we behave pleasantly to those among whom we dwell, unless at times, for some reason, it be necessary to displease them for some good purpose.” The goal of living by this virtue is to live in joy, for, as Thomas continues, “Now as man could not live in society without truth, so likewise, not without joy, because, as the Philosopher says, no one could abide a day with the sad nor with the joyless. Therefore, a certain natural equity obliges a man to live agreeably with his fellow-men; unless some reason should oblige him to sadden them for their good.”
Let us be intentional, then, in ensuring that our words and deeds strive to bring about joy and not sorrow, repentance and not anger, love and not hate. Let us live by the words of St. Paul:
Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all. (Romans 12:16-18)
Br. Antony Augustine Cherian, O.P. | Meet the Student Brothers in Formation HERE